Children who attended kindergarten scored higher in NAPLAN tests than their peers who didn't - but only if their kindergarten teacher was highly qualified.
The Melbourne Institute study is the first of its kind in Australia to prove the long-term academic benefits of preschool education. The findings come as the Abbott government threatens to shelve the requirement for early education services to have a degree-qualified teacher from January next year.
In Victoria, 97 per cent of children in 2012 attended kindergarten, an increase from the 91.4 per cent that attended in 2006. Researchers found preschool-educated children gain up to a 30-point advantage in NAPLAN results when they reach year 3, which is the equivalent of an extra six months of schooling. "Children who went to preschool in the year prior to their first formal year of schooling had significantly higher levels of academic achievement as measured by NAPLAN scores in year 3," researcher Diana Warren said.
Dr Warren and her colleague cross-matched the NAPLAN results of 2229 year 3 students in 2008 against their level of preschool education as recorded by a federal government long-term study of Australian children.
It found children whose kindergarten teacher held a diploma or degree qualification did especially better in numeracy, reading and spelling NAPLAN tests. But NAPLAN results for children whose kindergarten teacher held only a certificate or no relevant childcare qualification at all were "indistinguishably similar" to children who didn't attend any preschool.
"This is the first study to provide direct comparisons of the effect of the type of qualification held by the preschool teacher on later cognitive outcomes," Dr Warren said. After controlling for socio-economic variables, researchers found preschool contributed up to 15 points to a child's year 3 NAPLAN scores.
Preschool-educated children were more likely to score in the top band for NAPLAN than those who didn't attend preschool. For example, 32 per cent of children who attended preschool scored in band 6 for punctuation and grammar, compared with 21 per cent of non-preschool educated children.
The Coalition's childcare policy seeks to ''pause'' the requirement for all services to have a degree qualified teacher by 2014. It wants to ''slow'' the introduction of the increased child-staff ratio requirements until it has completed its Productivity Commission review of the sector.
Any plans to change the requirement for degree qualified preschool teachers would have to be negotiated with the states and territories.
The Education Department is now reviewing the pay rises for early childhood education teachers that were promised by the previous Labor government. The pay rises were supposed to help early education services comply with new regulations that require all services to have one university-qualified teacher.